Female Portrayal in Sport

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The Media’s Incorrect Portrayal of the Female Athlete in Sports

SPAD 284-01

February 10, 2011

No matter what sport you’re dealing with, the female athlete has always been the focus of under representation and misunderstanding by the mass media. But what exactly is the mass media and why does it have such a negative effect on female athletes? “Mass media is a powerful factor which influences our beliefs, attitudes, and the values we have of ourselves and others as well as the world surrounding us. It not only offers us something to see, but also shapes the way in which we see by creating shared perceptual modes” (Duncan & Brummet, 1987). Over the years, the shared perceptual modes of female athletes have been degrading to say the least. In today’s mass media, female athletes are incorrectly portrayed as sex symbols, which are highlighted for their sexuality rather than their athletic ability, and are subject to reduced recognition of their achievements based on their gender. When we think of the top female athletes in each sport, who comes to mind? Several names immediately sprout such as Danica Patrick, Serena Williams, Lindsey Vonn, and Maria Sharapova. Yet, the media today has made each one of these women a symbol of female sexuality in one way or another. Each of these women has posed for the popular Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. By posing for this magazine, are any of these women being recognized for their numerous feats accomplished in their sports? Dr. Nicole La Voi, the Associate Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, was quoted by KARE11 news in Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN as saying, “When we do see an athletic female of the cover of Sports Illustrated we are more likely to see her in poses that highlight femininity, physical attractiveness and can be interpreted as sexualized” (Shortal, 2010). Dr. La Voi states later in the article that sex is selling women’s sports....
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